Each monthly daylong in a Stepping Stones group has a different focus within the arc of the Coming-of-Age program and curriculum. In our monthly blog posts, we describe the importance of each of these aspects of the program and how the Stepping Stones group meets the need. Sometimes you’ll find personal reflections from the Stepping Stones community or tales from an exciting adventure a group embarked on. Read on!
When I was a kid, my family lived up in the hills of near a major metropolitan city. Both of my parents worked, so my brothers and I were often home alone after school. After the bus dropped us off, we’d grab a snack, a few friends, and head straight for “the Gully”. The Gully was a big sunken area full of trees, critters, and all kinds of other wonders. We would turn over rocks to find salamanders and pill bugs, try to catch lizards, and make forts from downed branches and leaves. This kind of time outside, even in a city, was the birth of my connection to nature.
The world is a very different place for youth today. It’s not news to anyone that kids are spending less time outdoors and more time on their devices. Let’s face it, everyone is. According to the non-profit group Common Sense Media, teens are spending more than one-third of their days on screens, almost nine hours on average. For those between the ages of 8 and 12, the average is around six hours per day. Add to that a busier schedule than ever for teens - with school work and a plethora of enrichment activities vying for their time. Where is the bulk of this time spent? Inside. The time to be in nature is limited by busy schedules and the allure and ease of technology.
And yet research shows that there are important positive correlations between health, intelligence, and nature. In his groundbreaking 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv explains that “a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature—in positive ways.” Studies reveal that children are healthier, happier, do better in school - and are perhaps even smarter and more creative when they spend time outdoors.
In addition to their personal growth and health, it is also crucial for youth to develop a relationship with nature in order to take an active part in caring for it. “The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives,” explains Bouv. Youth who feel a connection to nature are more likely to support environmental causes as adults. Without nature connection, the kindling of care for the environment and planetary health in our youth could be lost. The earth is counting on us to cultivate a love of nature in our youth. Not just to enjoy for our own personal well-being but also to fight to save for the good of humanity.
In lieu of the ability to run freely in a backyard natural playground like I was fortunate enough to have, children need opportunities to experience the natural world as an intentional practice (like you would with yoga, meditation, or prayer). Stepping Stones provides this for its youth participants. Each month on their daylongs, groups spend time outdoors with Leaders bringing in activities to discuss and discover connections to nature. Each summer, groups go on a camping or backpacking trip where they can dive deeper and with intention into their relationship with wilderness and the natural world. It’s good for the youth, it’s good for the group Leaders, it’s good for the earth and quite possibly, essential for our survival.